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The Landmark Mekong Riverside hotel is an imposing six-storey building that faces directly onto a beautiful stretch of river. Yet I’m surprised to learn, soon after my arrival, that it only has 188 guest rooms.

“When you consider our size and scale, the number of rooms does seem quite small,” says Hyeyoung So (pictured above), director of sales and marketing for one of the biggest hotels in the Laos national capital. “But that’s because our rooms are so generous in size at sixty square meters, compared with the usual hotel standard of 25 to 30 squares.”

She’s right. My room here is indeed huge, as I discover when I enter it for the first time. It’s a cool, welcoming space furnished and floored with Laotian wood, which fills the air with a fragrance like sandalwood.

5H7A3358“Many guests have told me the smell of the timber makes them feel comfortable,” says Hyeyoung with a smile. It has high ceilings, walk-in closet, private balcony, marble bathroom with tub, and a vast bed covered with fresh white linen. My immediate impression: a relaxing place to spend a few days.

With its fifty-meter swimming pool, on-site spa and three restaurants, the five-year-old Landmark Mekong Riverside (no relation to the Landmark hotels in London, Bangkok, Sydney and elsewhere) has a reputation for being a leisure destination, just a ten-minute taxi or tuk-tuk ride from the city or airport.

Giant ballroom

But it’s equally well-known for being a key MICE venue in Laos, having one of the biggest ballrooms in the country at a thousand square meters, which means the hotel can accommodate about 1,800 people for a reception dinner at round tables, or host exhibitions, says Hyeyoung. “We’ve organized concerts here with 2,500 people in the audience, and get a fair bit of government business as well.”

A testament to its good reputation is the number of luminaries who’ve stayed at the Landmark Mekong Riverside in recent times. They include President Xi of China, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, former US president Barack Obama, both the king and prime minister of Cambodia and the Queen of Belgium. Adjacent are attached, luxury serviced apartments that can serve as spill-over accommodation when really big events take place.

Bedroom 4And close by, also, is the five-star sister hotel, the Don Chan Palace, also overlooking the Mekong River, with conference and events space of its own. The two properties often collaborate in sharing facilities and providing staff.

An obvious attraction for leisure and business guests is outstanding value. As Hyeyoung observes, compared with other countries in the region and elsewhere, Laos is competitive in price in just about everything – “and one of the main reasons people come to Vientiane for conferences and events”.

The meeting package here is USD 40 per person for a full day and 32 dollars for a half day. It includes all necessary equipment, lunch, and for a full day meeting, two coffee breaks. The room rate is between 100 and 120 US dollars, and that includes service charge and tax and breakfast for two people sharing a room.

“Our price is set on the market and the value we believe we offer,” says Hyeyoung, a Korean who’s been in Laos for eight years and joined the hotel four years ago. (“I’m enjoying it, it’s a perfect place to build my career.”)

Fresh destination

The country is a newly discovered destination for many international travelers and events organizers, she observes, with plenty of opportunities. “In a way it’s the last destination to be really opened up to tourism in Southeast Asia. Our hotel being discovered by more and more Chinese and also Americans. Why? Because we have, and meet, high standards of rooms and service.”

Ballroom 1Vientiane itself offers delegates much to see and do, not least a plethora of French restaurants, some of which have been operating for decades. “There’s also interesting Lao fusion and Lao international food,” says Hyeyoung. “It’s a multicultural place with Chinese, Korean, European and other cultures co-existing harmoniously with local people in a small, compact city that’s easy to get around.” A busy night market flanking the river is a magnet for visitors.

Those who’d rather eat at the hotel can choose to dine at the excellent Yue Yuan Chinese Restaurant, the Tokyo Sushi and Teppanyaki Japanese eatery, and an all-day restaurant and bar, The Brasserie, off the expansive lobby and with views of the river. The buffet breakfasts are a profusion of choice, with offerings including fresh fruit like papaya, melon, watermelon and fruit salad as well as such eclectic diversity as kimchi, salt egg, tilapia in sauce, dumplings, beans, bacon, sausage, salami, smoked duck, sautéed mushrooms, congee, noodles, rice, potato croquettes and omelets! The coffee is not bad – and that’s saying something in Asia generally.

From USD 100

Room rates start from 100 US dollars a night, and as Hyeyoung mentions, meetings packages are extremely reasonable. PCOs and others seeking bookings should contact her or the main switchboard to discuss potential deals.

More info, click here.

Email: sales@landmarkmekonghotel.com.la




From a pillared forecourt I step from Bangkok’s heat and humidity through glass doors, and into the cool, subtly-lit lobby of the 137 Pillars hotel. The omni-present traffic noise is suddenly hushed.

All around me smiling staff clasp their hands in the prayer-like Thai gesture of welcome, Sawasdee. The lobby, illuminated by recessed lighting in a vaulted ceiling, is decorated by banks of fresh flowers with dark, well-padded sofas and low tables. On one side is a giant Picasso-esque mural.

IMG_1687Like its name, the 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok is unusual – and for this tired traveller on this day, something genuinely special. The classy, muted design themes are continued when I’m shown to my room – a bright, welcoming suite that is a miracle of compression. The compact space contains a fully equipped kitchen, marble bathroom with tub, comfy sofa and bed with invitingly fluffy white linen. The employee who’s accompanied me opens a cupboard door to reveal a washing machine and tumble dryer. “Hopefully you’ll find everything you need here for a comfortable stay,” he says.


Set in Bangkok’s Emquartier district, close to major shopping precincts, the luxury five-star hotel and serviced apartment complex 137 Pillars Suites and Residences is a sister property to the 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai about 600 kilometres to the north. The latter was so named by its owners because of the number of pillars in the original house around which that hotel was constructed.

City centre location

The Bangkok property comprises 34 hotel suites and 176 serviced one- and two-bedroomed residences, set in a chic building on Sukhumvit Soi 39. “We’re right in the middle of the city, close to public transport, with many high-end shopping areas and dining places close by,” says Nuengruethai Sa-Nguansakpakdee (pictured above), group director of sales and marketing. (She smilingly invites me to pronounce it, and is referred to as K. Nueng by her colleagues).

“The great thing about this hotel is that people can stay from anything from one night to a year and our two hundred staff do their best to make sure they feel at home and pampered,” she adds.

08 The Pillars Executive Studio Residences1In addition to incentive groups, 137 Pillars seeks to attract small companies for its meetings offering, explains K. Nueng. There’s a cosy, well-equipped meeting room for twenty to thirty people, overlooking a lush garden, with events clients coming from the region and, increasingly, from all over Asia, Europe and the US.

“Not just for conferences, but for wellness retreats and groups coming to Thailand for golf excursions and so on,” she says. “As you know, Bangkok is an exotic place with such a variety of things to do – dining, exploring the culture, enjoying the riverside life.”


The hotel offers guests a free regular shuttle service every 30 minutes to local shopping areas, as well as having a London cab on standby. It has two restaurants, the Nimitr – a specialty eatery featuring Asian dishes created by well-known local chef Nanang Prasetya Aditama – and the Bangkok Trading Post, an all-day bistro and deli. There are two bars, a spa and a fitness centre.

Suites range in size from 70 to 127 square metres and are located on the top floors, with 24-hour exclusive access to the rooftop and a 360-degree infinity pool. They offer a butler service, in-room private wine cellars, mood lighting, high ceilings, large walk-in wardrobes and Posturepedic “ultra plush” beds with Egyptian cotton linen, as I disovered after a good night’s sleep. Other sweeteners include a personal mobile phone with 4G data and complimentary unlimited overseas and domestic calls, breakfast from 6am to 11pm, a la carte afternoon tea from 2 to 5pm and sundown cocktails at Jack Bain’s Bar from 5 to 7pm.

From USD 180

How much would all this set you back? One of the great advantages of Bangkok as a MICE destination, as many PCOs know, is the value for money it represents. Many organisers seeking to arrange an event in cities like New York or Hong Kong would expect to pay perhaps USD 400 or more a night for facilities of this quality. Yet the rate for a conference package here is USD 80 for a full day, including coffee breaks and lunch and staff on hand constantly to trouble-shoot, says K. Nueng. The rack rate for a studio room starts at about USD 180.

“I do think that’s good value,” she says.

This traveller would agree.

More information, click here. Email: contact@137pillarsbangkok.com

27 Jamjuree Lawn on ground level

03 Doorman2





A warm breeze blows off the Pacific and a waveless sea laps the sandy beach a few metres below my feet. As I sip my beer in the open-sided ‘Le Faré’ restaurant and bar, it’s hard to believe that this is mid-winter.

I’m spending a week at the Marriott International group’s Le Méridien Noumea which is, from many accounts, an increasingly popular five-star MICE (and leisure) hotel in the Melanesian archipelago of New Caledonia. Set on a beautiful beach and tropical lagoon, surrounded by rustling palms and lush gardens, it’s a typical Pacific hostelry in many ways, yet like the destination itself it’s decidedly Gallic, with French-speaking staff, menus and wine.

Perrine FermeThe islands of New Caledonia, acquired by France in 1853, are “a very different destination,” observes Perrine Ferme (left), Le Méridien’s marketing and communications manager. “We’re surrounded by English-speaking countries, yet we’re the only French territory in this part of the world,” she says. “We represent a much shorter way to get to France for many people who live in the region.”

Combined with the Melanesian culture, this gives the hotel an exotic character, says Perrine. “You have French food, cheese, music, language and so on, and from a MICE point of view, there’s so much to do.”

What makes it especially attractive for anyone considering arranging an event in this part of the world is its extensive meeting-space offering, says Perrine, with conference facilities of more than a thousand square metres in a separate wing of the complex. The ballroom can take 400 theatre-style and can be divided into two. In addition there are six breakout rooms and a wedding chapel on a lawn overlooking the ocean.

The hotel can easily accommodate large groups because it has 207 rooms including 36 suites, some with kitchen facilities for long stays, and all with views of the sea or gardens. Most MICE visitors stay on site, says Perrine. The optimum large group size is 150, but more can comfortably be accommodated.

LMN - HUBMoreover the beachfront restaurant Le Faré can be booked at night to become a beautiful banquet space for groups.

“It’s a great spot to hold welcome functions and slip into New Cal mode,” explains Perrine.

The hotel and its facilities are set on a lagoon with direct access to the sea at the end of the Noumea peninsula. It’s located close to a casino and is within walking distance of a big variety of bars, restaurants and beaches.

The city centre with its museums, golf courses and other attractions is a short bus or cab ride from the hotel.


Le Méridien has a deal with the local cultural centre designed by the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. By showing their room keys, guests can access the centre and exhibition rooms for no charge.

A special offer for PCOs, available for bookings until the end of December 2018, for stays until December 2019, is a “pick your perks” deal. Based on a three-night minimum stay and bookings for 50 rooms, it offers a nightly rate of 18,500 local francs (XPF), equivalent to around AUD 245. Organisers can pick three perks from a range including one upgrade every 20 nights paid, five percent off the master room bill, an additional signature drink included in any evening function and ten percent off treatments at the onsite spa, “Deep Nature”.

Services include a dedicated arrival team for delegates, coach or helicopter transfers, car and bicycle hire, last-minute agenda changes, gift delivery and room drops, tours and excursions or a fleet of catamarans for an afternoon regatta.

Is Le Méridien Noumea good value? “I’d say we’re the same as big cities like Sydney, certainly not more, and of course some times the exchange rate for the South Pacific franc is in your favour, sometimes not,” says Perrine.

LMN - VIEW OF NOUMEA FROM THE OUEN TORO HILL (1)Usually, better rates are available in the winter low season, between April and September, she says. October to March is warmer but can also be more humid. “But our weather is pleasant most of the year; we’re known by local people as the island of eternal spring.”

New Caledonia is akin to a well-kept secret, Perrine adds. Many visitors are day trippers off cruise ships, but that doesn’t give them enough time to enjoy all that the city has to offer, or, indeed, the Marriott International group in the islands, she says. The group owns two other hotels: the Sheraton New Caledonia Deva spa and golf resort about 200 kilometres north of Noumea, and Le Méridien Ile des Pins on a beautiful island about 100 kilometres to the southeast.

“I’m from France, I’ve been in New Caledonia almost eleven years,” says Perrine. “Initially I was meant to be here for two, then fell in love with the place and stayed. Lots of others love it too.”

There are direct flights to Noumea from Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Japan and Tahiti.

The Siteseer was a paying guest of Le Méridien Noumea.

More information, click here.





With distinctive square contours, resembling New York’s Empire State Building, the newly opened, ultra-luxury Grand Hyatt in Manila is already gaining a reputation for being a venue for brilliant, atypical MICE events, say its operators.

The hotel has been a year late in opening, but for PCOs already seeking bookings out beyond the year, it will be worth the wait, they say.

Why? For one thing, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Mellissa Ledesma (pictured below with Gottfried Bogensperger, General Manager of Grand Hyatt Manila) it’s set in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a booming grid-style urban precinct once owned by the American military that features great shopping, entertainment, clubs, dining and museums within walking distance of the hotel.IMG_1590

“Because of all the action happening in the BGC area, it’s a destination on its own,” says Mellissa in an exclusive interview with The Siteseer. “That’s what we want to project to the world; it’s hugely exciting.”

Second, the building in which the hotel is located is a talking point in itself. It’s said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 66 storeys. From the ground to the sixth level is the podium level of the hotel.

The seventh to the thirty-fourth floors house the financial group that owns Grand Hyatt Manila. The hotel itself occupies the thirty-fifth to the sixty-sixth floors, with all 461 rooms having floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of Metro Manila and the blue waters of Manila Bay. “This is also a unique selling point,” says Mellissa.

Third and not least, the events and associated facilities – 2,281 square metres in total – are genuinely enticing, at the kind of competitive prices for which Manila is gaining a reputation. The pillarless grand ballroom, flanked on one side by a show kitchen, is the only one in the city with natural light, a singular architectural feat considering that it’s a 1,240-square-metre space.

“If they choose to, guests can watch chefs cooking to lights and music, with videos of what they’re doing screened around the ballroom,” Mellissa explains.

Ballroom seating for 900

The ballroom’s capacity is around 900. Its great advantage is that with so many guest rooms, which include 52 suites, for most events everyone can stay on site, Mellissa says. Moreover there are plenty of options for plenary and breakout sessions. “For conferences the ideal booking size is about 100 rooms and 200 people.”

The lobby lounge is set over three tiers. The top tier houses the Grand Kitchen, an all-day dining venue where, in a departure from typical buffets, food is cooked à la minute. “Everything is prepared fresh so you have no situation where food is sitting around in a serving dish for hours,” says Mellissa. “Everything’s served to order so if you have a dietary issue, like you want salt taken out, it’s easy.”

On the fifth floor is a soon-to-open restaurant, No 8 China House. And at the Cellar, a welcoming bar and eatery serving tapas-like meals, The Siteseer’s representative sampled savoury ham-and-béchamel croquettes here, followed by a fragrant, seafood-rich paella. The Cellar is open for lunch and dinner and in the afternoons and is available for drinks throughout the day. Guests here can enjoy craft beers and a vast selection of good wines, which they can select from a digital sommelier, Vinu.

Grand KingThe peak of public spaces

Perhaps the highlight of the public spaces, to open soon, will be The Peak at the top of the building, where an entertainment centre will occupy two storeys, with a grill restaurant, bars, a band venue, club, and, like the Empire State building, an al-fresco area where visitors can drink and dine at a dizzying height.

“One of the strengths of us being a MICE property is that any of the public spaces in the hotel, including restaurants, can be converted to events venues,” Mellissa explains. “On the sixth level where the pool, spa and gym are located we have a pavilion that can seat a hundred and which opens up to a garden. Or the area can be closed off for an evening event.”

Significant MICE business is already being booked from the US, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia, says Mellissa. “We’re developing China, and tourists from China have tripled recently, with a number of enquiries for events. We had one last week from Beijing. In addition there are new markets emerging that were never previously on our radar, like the Czech Republic and Italy.”

Earth tones

An attraction for guests, too, is the fresh-looking guestrooms and suites, which have been set up with honeyed wood walls and maple-plank floors. Bathrooms are finished in veined grey-white marble and have a spacious glass enclosed shower stall and deep soaking tub. There’s a sizeable lounge area with a desk, plush couch, walk-in closet, safe and floor-to-ceiling mirror walls.


Value proposition

Compared with, say, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore, Manila is widely known for being a low-cost city, especially in relation to luxury properties. Still, it depends how you define value, Mellissa observes. “We ensure our guests get what they need and what they want.

“When you compare this hotel to other destinations in Asia, it’s much more competitive. In the past Manila hasn’t generally been rated that highly as a MICE destination; now there’s growing interest.”


From USD182

Grand Hyatt has been offering introductory rates on rooms, along with other special offers and arrangements. Going rates for the Grand King room start at USD182++ (PHP9,500++). The MICE rate for a Grand King room with buffet breakfast, morning snacks, afternoon snacks is USD229++ (PHP12,000++) for single occupancy and USD305++ (PHP16,000++) for double occupancy.

Hyatt has been in the Philippines since the ‘seventies, and was one of the earliest international hotel chains to set up in the country. Yet this is the first time an ultra-premium Grand Hyatt has been located in the islands. The brand is in a bold expansion phase, with six Grand Hyatt hotels currently in the pipeline round the world, including the one in Manila.

“By giving guests our full attention and making them feel celebrated, we hope to build an emotional connection with them to ensure their stay with us is unforgettable,” says Gottfried Bogensperger. “We want them to keep coming back, not just for the hardware, which is the hotel, but for the warm and authentic people working behind the scenes.”

More information, click here.


“Why choose our meetings facilities?” says Gregory Preslier reflectively. “Without sounding selfish, look at the destination. Bangkok gets 37 million visitors a year, but in a way it’s the best-hidden secret in the world.”

The urbane, immaculately attired Area Director of Sales and Marketing for the InterContinental Hotels Group in Thailand is chatting over coffee in the vaulted lobby of the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok. IMG_1505

Events organisers at the 381-room hotel have 22 meeting rooms, all on the same level, to choose from, Gregory observes. Yet the bustling urban precinct in which it sits is probably just an important consideration as venue flexibility and price.

It’s no cliché, he adds. Bangkok is a dynamic mega-city with wonderful attributes, for Gregory a mix between Casablanca and London, and it has two tiers. One involves the Thai culture which is manifest in the restaurant scene and food variety and quality. The other relates to what you can do for fun.


“The tourist places, shrines and cultural areas convention people can visit in Bangkok are extraordinary. There’s so much to do. The hotel is fantastic, sure, but you don’t need to stay in it all the time. You can’t be a hypocrite and deny what’s around here. Clients [we talk to] like this aspect because we’re not selling anything. We’re introducing a product but at the same time there’s so much more the destination itself can give.”

Located adjacent to a big Holiday Inn, the InterContinental Bangkok itself has one of the largest hotel banqueting, meeting and convention facilities in the city. Its main ballroom takes 800, theatre-style, and caters for many weddings – especially at weekends – of up to 1,200 guests. “You can come here for a conference, exhibition, seminar, product launch or fashion show and do everything on the same floor,” says Gregory. “They’re purpose-built facilities so we’re never improvising; I have fifteen people in my events team alone.”

Moreover it’s easy to get to. The two good airports have great connections. In addition investors from round the world – and Asia especially – are investing in Thailand and Bangkok, whose infrastructure grows all the time. “There are a lot of positives here and people like going to positive places,” says Gregory. “Wherever you are as an events planner in your industry, things are happening here. Medical, association, sport, education, welfare and so on; there’s really a mix of everything.”

Premier Suite BedroomImportantly, it also represents good value. A hotel in New York comparable to InterContinental Bangkok would cost three times as much, Gregory says, so the tagline “affordable luxury” here means what it says. “For a hundred and sixty US dollars you can get outstanding bed and breakfast at the Intercontinental Bangkok. I hear sometimes from clients that we’re expensive when they’re talking in baht, and sometimes hear ‘five thousand baht, that’s a lot of money!’ It is, to some people, don’t get me wrong, but for many typical international congress or conference organisers, I’d like to see them do an event for that price somewhere else in the world in a hotel of this calibre.”

The staff, 99 per cent of whom are Thai, are continually trained and participate, too, in a variety of charitable and team-building work on an ongoing basis that helps them connect, also, with guests. “Our people go directly to hospitals and schools to help out; it’s not just about giving, it’s about connecting, caring about something other than yourself.”

Gregory, 43, born in England and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, speaks from considerable experience. He’s worked in London, Morocco, Dubai, France, (his father’s French and his mother English), and Monte Carlo. He was involved in the opening of Le Grand in Paris, a beautiful 500-room hotel on the Opera square, and the Atlantis, Dubai, which has 1,500 bedrooms, and One&Only Resorts.

intercon-11Few of the properties he’s worked in have matched the InterContinental Bangkok for position. With a BTS station, Chit Lom, on its doorstep, the hotel offers easy access to the city’s major business precincts along with shopping destinations and dining, in addition to the hotel’s plethora of eateries. These include Theo Mio, an Italian restaurant with open-to-view kitchen on site named after famed London chef Theo Randall, who was on hand to meet staff, clients and media when The Siteseer visited recently.

IHG has recently also opened in front of the complex a new beer house and brasserie, Beer Republic.

Offering seventy beers, twenty of them local, alongside delicious Thai and European bar food, it’s due to open mid-December as an independent, chilling-out venue, accessible from outside the hotel.

What’s the best time to organise a conference at the InterContinental? It’s pretty busy all year round, says Gregory, but some times may best be avoided, like Chinese new year and other occasions when there are lots of leisure guests. Otherwise January-February, just before Chinese new year, are good, then April to June. “Because we’re so close to China, Singapore and Hong Kong, our market and calendar of availability is not just about Thailand, it’s about the region. For example when Australia Or India have holidays it impacts Thailand as a destination.”

Meanwhile the IHG group is expanding. It has 24 hotels in Thailand including IHG brand, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Indigo properties.

Online rates start at around US160 a night. More info at http://bangkok.intercontinental.com/

Siteseer says: I loved the airy feel of the hotel and its meetings room. Especially liked the muted-ochre colours of the guest rooms and the fantastically comfortable bed, which has a choice of sink-into-and-sleep pillows. The sounds of the busy city are well muffled by the windows.

The pool on the thirty-seventh floor is of generous size considering how far it is above street level, with a pint-size bar and good bar menu. Other minor much-appreciated attributes include plenty of drinking water in the room.


Hotelier Marlon Hirsh, General Manager of the Crown Towers and Nobu Hotels in Manila’s City of Dreams gaming, events and leisure complex, has a long pedigree in Asian luxury properties. Having been in his current role since the resort’s opening almost three years ago, he predicts a stellar future for the booming Bay district – which is helping transform the way potential visitors view the city, he says. In an interview with The Siteseer, dapper, quietly-spoken Marlon shared insights into his events and leisure businesses and outlined his vision.

Siteseer: There’ve been press reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere recently that Melco Resorts Philippines [owner of the City of Dreams complex] is the world’s most successful casino stock, mainly as a result of expanding business from China. How important is the Chinese gaming market for you?

Marlon Hirsh: Well obviously extremely important. The market continues to grow as the Chinese gain more discretionary income and are starting to travel, not just to southeast Asia, but to Europe and America, really expanding their horizons. It’s vital that we capitalise on it.

If you look at issues like visa processing, proximity and travel costs, the Philippines is a great destination and source of business. The country has a tremendous amount to offer, and not just to the Chinese.

IMG_9527SS: All those beautiful islands within easy flying distance?

MH: Absolutely. If you look at [the Philippine islands of] Cebu, Palawan and Boracay for example, they’re within easy reach of not just China but Korea as well. The Koreans are a strong part of our business mix, as are the Filipino and Japanese – and even the Americans are starting to come. So the City of Dreams continues to grow.

SS: It must be pleasing for you, seeing as the business took a while to build momentum after opening.

MH:  It did take a while unfortunately. But by the time we got our international marketing together, by the tail end of 2015, we started to see things really picking up. We’ll continue to target certain markets, especially the corporate and MICE businesses. Right now we have a pretty good mix; we’re happy with our direction; it’s full-steam ahead.

SS: And the MICE business? How’s that performing for you?

MH: It’s growing. When we opened, somebody asked me to predict what the MICE market would represent at the City of Dreams. Off the cuff I pulled out a figure, said it would probably be around 30%, and that’s where we’re at.

Look, this is a great facility. It’s understated in the sense that we not only have great entertainment, but great ballroom facilities, and the AV and technology to go with them along with a choice of three hotels [with a Hyatt on site in addition to Crown Towers and Nobu] and twenty-plus restaurants to choose from.

any people may underestimate the City of Dreams. It’s much more than just a casino. It’s an integrated resort with world-class entertainment. There are plenty of other single-standing hotels that can offer several hundred rooms around town. Well here we have nearly a thousand rooms between three international-branded hotel properties, and they’re all luxury five-star. Not everyone may realise that.

IMG_9520We have the F&B, the entertainment and DreamPlay [pictured left and below, a family play space with attractions also suited to teambuilding activities] which is a first in the world. Couple that with the service we provide. In my opinion, and of course I’m biased, it’s a no-brainer. Why not come here?

SS: I guess the triangle of good hotels in one location near the airport is a strong selling point?

MH: Yes, especially now that there’s a new, short expressway from the airport that was fully opened in December. We’ve seen an increase in our gaming business coming into the property as a result. It takes ten minutes to get from the terminals to our hotels, and about 20 to 30 minutes to [the key business centres of] Makati and Bonifacio Global City. Manila traffic hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest of reputations. The freeway has removed much of the anxiety about city traffic that [events planners] may have had when contemplating a trip to Manila.

SS: Who mostly makes up your MICE business?

MH: Lots of pharmaceutical companies, sales teams, doctors. As of now much of this business is regional, and we get some [events] visitors from Australia and Singapore.

I believe that will continue to build. People will realise that with 575 guest rooms between the Nobu and the Crown alone, the number of twin double [queen-sized] beds is significantly higher here than what you’d find in other hotels. So from a MICE perspective it’s very advantageous for planners. We can accommodate larger groups and are able to provide, say, 200 rooms for 400 people twin-sharing. That helps overcome a challenge many hotels face. All we have to do is shift our business around internally to be able to accommodate events guests. It’s almost unheard of.

IMG_9521SS: In the general scheme of things is the City of Dreams a value-for-money destination?

MH: One hundred per cent yes. The perceived value for money is overwhelming – [ranging from] the way the sales team engages with clients, accommodating their last-minute requests, to the ease of use and ease of doing business. It’s a winner. Value lies also in the product and facilities and the great team of staff who work in these hotels. Their knowledge of the product, and food and beverage, and their ability to deliver services in the way we’d like our guests to experience them, are outstanding.

We’re in the Bay area of Manila, which is a rapidly developing commercial enclave. So if you want shopping we’re very close to the Mall of Asia, one of the largest in southeast Asia. If you want cultural perspectives, you’ve got Intramuros [the oldest part of the city that dates back to Spanish colonisation].

And if you want to play golf there’s a course at Intramuros as well. Makati is 20 to 30 minutes away. There’s something for everybody.

In addition, in a couple of years from now there’ll be another new, huge mall of 3.8 million square feet right across from the City of Dreams, accessible from us via a pedestrian bridge. It’ll have five storeys of retail space and more restaurants. The foot traffic will be unbelievable.

SS: You’ve talked in past interviews about the passion and engagement of the staff at the City of Dreams. How do they compare with those in the other hotels you’ve worked in?

MH: That belief still holds water. We’re fortunate enough to work in hotels that give new employees ample training, emphasising quality and standards. They have a wonderful attitude. There’s a particular pride and passion among staff to deliver five-star luxury experience.

I’ve discovered there’s something in the theory that hospitality is innate in the Filipino culture. I’ve been an expat for sixteen years, and in southeast Asia for fourteen of them: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore. Filipinos’ English, widely spoken in local communities, is a huge plus for many international visitors.

It was interesting for me a couple of years back when we opened and had our mass recruitment drive. I had an opportunity to engage with the staff and interview every person who works for me. It was a phenomenal experience, bringing the corporate vision to life. The staff continues to perform and execute to this very day.

SS: Did you work for hotels in the States before coming to Asia?

MH: Yes, I started my career over twenty years ago with Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and then Shangri-la. I’ve worked also in the Middle East and Europe.

MNLHY_ExteriorI’m proud of my luxury hotel experience which covers the gamut of line staff positions – security, night manager, housekeeping, guest services. We’re all professionals. A house keeper is not a maid; he or she is someone who provides a professional service.

It’s been a wonderful joy ride for me and my family and I’m fortunate to do what I enjoy and get paid to do it. My father taught me a long time ago that going to work should be like going on vacation. he luxury hotel business is like that. There are never two days exactly alike.

Whether you’re talking to kings and queens, high-end personalities, A-list celebrities and so forth or talking to staff who are new in the city, you find everybody has something useful to impart and contribute. You can’t stereotype anybody.

SS: Does [the actor] Robert de Niro still visit?

MH: He’s been here twice. He visited during the pre-opening and did a walk-through of the guest rooms, cracking jokes, being hands-on, sitting on sofas and testing them for comfort, checking the density of the pillows and that they were to specs. He came back for the launch of the Nobu.

We’re also lucky to have [Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa after whom the hotel is named] come to the property once or twice a year. We recently had a wonderful dinner for 300 covers here and book-signing with him. Incidentally he was just recently conferred a food and beverage lifetime achievement award by Esquire in the UK.

SS: In ten years’ time what will the City of Dreams and its hotels be like?

MH: I’ve got one line: the future is ours. This is a fantastic, world-class facility that’s competitive in every way. The area in and around Entertainment City will continue to expand. There’ll be more malls, embassies will come in, it’ll become even more of an entertainment centre, and we’ll be helping change Manila, putting it back on the map.

For more information about the City of Dreams, Crown Towers and Nobu hotel (one of whose rooms is pictured below), go here.

And see more Siteseer stories on the City of Dreams here:



Nobu room

It’s a small thing for some people, sure, but it suggests a well-run establishment, whose operators are mindful of the green sensibilities of many of today’s travellers.

I’m talking about the two-litre glass, recyclable bottles of drinking water that are provided in the 48 guest bedrooms of The District hotel, Boracay, one of the most beautiful of the 7,107 islands in the Philippines. As anyone who knows Asian beaches can attest, discarded plastic is a ubiquitous scourge, and in a small way The District is trying to do something about it.

The four-star hotel is set on Boracay’s famed White Beach, a stretch of gleaming talcum-power sand on the western side of the seven-kilometre-long island, in the busy central tourist area known as Station 2. This precinct’s unimaginative name belies the beauty of the beach itself – and of the hotel. It’s a delightful white-painted building whose cool interiors, symmetrical lines and elegant stone pathways and finishes are redolent of hostelries of the Greek islands and southern Spain.

The District Boracay - FacadeStandard room rates include round-trip transfers from the airport at Caticlan on an adjacent island, involving a private speedboat ride and a choice of breakfast or brunch buffet for two. The District is in fact the only resort on the island that offers guests the option of either breakfast or brunch as part of the regular rate, says Marketing and PR Manager Vina Mataganas.

It’s great value for money for events and leisure visitors alike, Vina says. “You can have your late breakfast or brunch till 1pm, and guests enjoy complimentary massage samplers at our spa or complimentary drinks at the bar. In addition to the physical treats they enjoy personalised service, which I think is really at the core of a great resort or hotel.”

Wedding ceremonies are a key component of the District’s business, as are private dinners and corporate events. The conference room can accommodate up to 80, and can be easily converted into two rooms to cater for smaller groups. And there’s an events roof deck (and bar) that overlooks the beach. On this elevated first-floor perch guests can enjoy evening cocktails while watching the sun sink into the South China Sea.

The hotel’s MICE business is at present mostly local, but it also hosts international incentive visitors, says Vina. One recent group, for example, came from Russia.

The District Boracay - Deluxe Room (King)There’s a serene lap pool as well as a spa and fitness centre, and two restaurants serve as well-priced alternatives to the plethora of other outlets that front onto White Beach.

One of the District’s restaurants, the Caruso, has tables inside the hotel, on the ground floor, and set out on the beach after dark. (It will operate at The District until May 31 then be replaced later in the year by a new restaurant, The Plenary, offering comfort food, and a café, the House Brew.)

The breakfast and brunch buffets offer a variety of local and western fare, from fresh fruit and salads to Filipino dishes like fried pork and noodles. In an egg station, smiling chefs whip up omelettes to order, virtually in an instant. The buffet restaurant, The Star Lounge, has both alfresco and indoor areas, the latter suiting diners who prefer eating in cool surrounds.

But, undoubtedly, one of the most attractive features of the establishment is the beach itself. Guests leaving the hotel step, literally, from the front door onto the sand and into the shade of rustling palm trees. The azure water, fifteen metres away, is a balmy-bathwater temperature all year round.

“Most important of all, we know our guests by heart,” says Vina. “We offer unrivalled and personalised service; in fact we’re a consistent recipient of TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award, mainly because of our service, as well as our location and facilities.”

From USD180 per day

Meeting package rates here range from PHP 1,800 (USD 36) to PHP 3,200 (USD 64) per person per day, depending on menu choice and whether organisers opt for half-board or full-board meals. Room rates start from PHP 9,900 (USD 198). “But we customise packages, which gives our guests flexibility in managing their budgets,” says Vina.

Events visitors, meanwhile, appreciate The District Boracay’s embrace of sustainability principles in a variety of ways. For example the hotel uses solar power to augment its electricity needs, via a hundred solar panels installed on the rooftops. “We’re for sustainable tourism; that’s why we make sure we do our part in offsetting our operation’s carbon footprint,” says Vina.

More information here.

The District Boracay - Resort Grounds



On a grey-blue sea, ferries scuttle about in bright sunshine. A cruise liner looms at its mooring, while in the distance a low-cone-shaped sleeping volcano rises from the harbour – an unmistakable clue to the city I’ve recently arrived in.

This is the view from the eleventh-floor window of my room at AccorHotels’ 207-room Mercure Auckland Hotel, one of the most popular meeting and leisure destinations in the “Britomart” waterfront area of New Zealand’s biggest city.

GeorginaRecently refurbished and soon to be rebadged as a more upscale, four-and-a-half-star Grand Mercure, the hotel has eight naturally lit meeting rooms, set on a dedicated conference floor that can accommodate up to 200 theatre-style and has a banquet capacity of up to 150.

There are over 740 Mercure hotels around the world, but one of this one’s main attractions is its location, a hundred metres from Auckland’s ferry station and the pretty, sprawling harbour. It’s just a short walk from here, too, to the upscale bars and restaurants of the waterfront precinct and boat harbour, as well as some of the city’s key shopping areas.

“There are wonderful touring opportunities and access to activities right on our doorstep,” explains Georgina Grey (left), AccorHotels’ ebullient Director of Sales and Marketing for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

“You can mix up a two- or three-day conference with offsite activities very effectively,” says Georgina, a former Qantas staffer based in New Zealand who’s been with AccorHotels for ten years. “That’s why we’re finding so many people coming here for conferences are staying on – it’s a really good value proposition for partners as well.”

The average conference group at the hotel is about fifty. “And when we need partners we work closely from an external point of view with The Cloud and Spark Arena, both multi-purpose events venues on the waterfront holding up to 6,000 people, and with the big Viaduct events centre which is an eight-minute walk from here as well,” she says.

The Mercure works closely, also, with the Pullman, one of AccorHotels’ five-star marques that has a capacity for 600 guests, banquet style, and 900 in theatre format. “We have 16 event spaces at the Pullman, and that’s just a five-minute walk up the hill from the waterfront.”

auckland-1920032_1920Business, generally, is brisk for the AccorHotels business in Auckland, where the French multinational has ten hotels (including Sofitel, Novotel, Pullman and Ibis) and where Sofitel So, another luxury property, will be opening at the beginning of next year, says Georgina.

Like the national economy, New Zealand visitor arrivals are surging. They reached 3.543 million in the year ended March, up 8.9% from a year earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand. Most of these people enter and leave via Auckland, where, The Siteseer discovered when visiting the city for the first time in a decade, the quality of dining and lodging today rivals that of the major Australian cities and where more and more people are attracted by the country’s spectacular scenery and perceived clean air and water.

“Auckland is now a destination in its own right, similar to Sydney but with some unique aspects,” says Georgina. “We compete with Australia and some parts of Asia but find that the ease of getting around here, the language and currency are big attractions – and of course getting to understand what jandals are [thongs]!”

It’s well-served by airlines and has, in particular, come on the radar of the American market, she adds. There’s fierce competition on the trans-Tasman route, with Chinese carriers coming in via Australia and Emirates flying-in A380s from Sydney and Melbourne. “We’re set on a beautiful harbour and apparently have the most boats per-capita of any city in the world,” says Georgina. “Apart from being a physically pleasing destination, it’s also a cost-effective one.”

3 Vue BarFurther growth seems inevitable, with a plethora of construction cranes punctuating the skyline and the New Zealand International Convention centre due to come on stream in a couple of years’ time. “We’ll then be competing directly with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane for international business,” says Georgina.

The soon to be rebranded Grand Mercure, whose refurbishment is nearing completion with the addition of Custom Lane, a café-by-day and bar-by-night facility on the ground floor adjacent to the lobby, will undoubtedly benefit. Meantime its conference clients can choose from a continually growing number of team-building and touring activities. For example, they can take a 35-minute ferry ride to beautiful Waiheke Island to sample some of the region’s wine, or enjoy a guided walk on Rangitoto Island, which last erupted around 600 years ago. The hotel provides walking routes, with maps, for guests which “really brings the outside in”.

Cycling is another option. The Siteseer took an easy, four-hour guided bicycle tour (USD70) that threaded its way through the waterfront area and then along the coast of Hauraki Gulf to the busy shopping and restaurant area of Mission Bay.

In the Britomart precinct around the Mercure, a variety of celebrity chefs have opened eateries in recent times, and many major retail brands, like Tiffany’s and Gucci, have set up shop. “In ten years this has gone from being an industrial bus-transport sort of area to a place conducive to a lovely night out,” says Georgina.

From USD200

Roughly, a day meeting package plus accommodation deals at the Auckland Mercure start from around USD200. That’s good value, says Georgina. Indeed this is a city in which, according to a recent report in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, shortage of supply and pressure on hotels have forced organisers to use Airbnb for some of their clients.

More information here.

2 Superior King

1 Exterior

Just off Saigon’s heaving, teeming Ben Thanh market, up a discreet flights of steps in a pencil-thin precinct reminiscent of apartments in Paris or New York, is a hidden gem: the 21-room Anpha Boutique Hotel.

The Anpha’s rooms have obviously been set up by interior designers with a Francophile’s eye. For The Siteseer on a recent visit, it was a pleasing, good-value incentive option in a beehive of a city renowned for its almost embarrassingly cheap accommodation and food.

For those who find taxi-hunting an annoying chore after a tiring flight, the hotel can arrange airport pick-ups for USD19.

On arrival at the Anpha, a walk up a flight of stairs directly from a main artery, Le Thanh Ton Street, takes visitors into a tiny, airconditioned reception area and cosy waiting room where they’re welcomed with a drink.

FD4ANAK39645The well-appointed rooms are tastefully decorated and uniformly immaculate, a credit to the housekeeping team. Many have balconies and a view over the Ben Thanh market, which occupies an entire block and sells everything from sugared frogs eggs to live fish, shoes, ornaments and underwear.

A plethora of fantastic-value restaurants and spas surround the hotel, which is easy walking distance to major attractions including the Opera House, Saigon Square shopping centre and the clunkily-named War Remnants Museum. The museum is a fascinating showcase of military hardware used in the Vietnam War.

At the hotel’s rooftop (seventh floor) restaurant and bar area guests can take an al-fresco set-menu breakfast, as part of the room deal, while overlooking one of Vietnam’s busiest urban areas.

“We’re aiming to please business and leisure travellers who are looking for secure, clean, pleasing high-end accommodation,” an Anpha spokesperson says.

“And because of our address in the heart of  Saigon, they can discover most of the key attractions of the city and still be just minutes away from the city’s busiest financial, cultural and shopping areas.”

IMG_1371The young people manning reception are obliging and willing to arrange day tours for reasonable prices. Arguably the most fascinating of these is a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, 60 kilometres from the city, which starts from about AUD 50 per person, including pick up at the hotel and transport in an airconditioned bus. It takes around two hours to get there but it’s worth the effort. The tunnels are a 200-kilometre-long network of underground passageways in which up to 16,000 Viet Cong sheltered during the Vietnam War and from which they launched attacks on US troops and, in earlier years, on French colonists.

Visitors can experience the passageways (and view the hidden kitchens and fiendish traps for enemy soldiers) first-hand, with emergency exits provided for those for whom the claustrophobia proves too much. For westerners who revel in the occasional escape from health and safety rules, there’s a shooting range on site where, for around USD20, anyone of any age can step up to fire some of the legendary weapons from the conflict, including M-16s, AK47s and an old .30-calibre machine gun.

Online from AUD 89

The Anpha Boutique Hotel is 30 minutes from Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). All rooms have free wifi, working desk and other amenities you’d expect like a safe and minibar. It has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence award.

For more information visit www.anphaboutiquehotel.com.



It was late, after 11pm, when I arrived at the La Rose Boutique Hotel and Spa in Phnom Penh, tired after two long flights. I soon discovered to my dismay that the people at reception weren’t expecting me – I’d given them the wrong dates.

As I wearily began to ponder where else I might stay that night, a receptionist assured me all would be well.

Though the hotel was full, there was a spare room, seldom used, that the evening staff could open and quickly spruce up. Then they’d move me to another, better room the next day. “I’m so sorry sir,” said the staffer.

002-lobby (1a)_East Wing“It’s not your fault,” I replied. “I’m the one who gave you the wrong dates in the first place; I should be apologising.”

But as I discovered, this kind of obliging service is a hallmark of the 10-roomed La Rose Boutique Hotel, and its five-star sister property a short drive away in the Cambodian capital, the 68-room La Rose Suites. Both represent wonderful value for money for leisure and business visitors.

Because the hotel and its managers feel strongly about corporate social responsibility, it employs hundreds of staff from a local NGO, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, some of whom are pictured below.

Many of these young people hail from rural areas around Phnom Penh, and the hotel helps them acquire skills and a job. It also donates a portion of its revenue to the La Rose Foundation, which it established to help improve the lives of the poor.

The La Rose properties are owned by a Cambodian businesswoman who’s been involved in the local hospitality industry for over 20 years. Inspired by the architecture of French Indochina and the ancient Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat, she’s responsible for the interior design which features dark woods, white walls and red trim. (She chose the name La Rose because she’s passionate about roses.)

The suites, sized from 45 square metres and upwards, have four-poster beds and guests have access to an outdoor saltwater pool. The 95 square-metre “La Rose Family Suites” have a private balcony while one-bedroom apartments are available with and without private balconies, and there’s a two-bedroom apartment with kitchen, private meeting room and separate swimming pool. The free wifi is quick and reliable.

003-La Rose Junior Suite Double (2)A dedicated meeting room can seat up to 20, and the two restaurants convert to versatile meeting spaces for 40 to 50 people, says a hotel spokesman. Moreover, as part of the deal, guests receive a free one-hour traditional Khmer massage and free access to the room minibar every day during their stay.

In addition to the array of spa packages available, La Rose Suites offers classes for those who want to take home more than a souvenir.

Guests can educate themselves in the art of massage or take a traditional Khmer cooking class.

As Cambodia emerges from a troubled past, its inbound tourist arrivals are increasing steadily. In 2013, the most recent date for which official figures seem to be available, arrivals grew 17.5% year on year, with business traveller numbers growing 47%.

The La Rose clientele, both leisure and group, is today 90% western, with the balance coming from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, says the spokesman. Most visit the major Phnom Penh attractions like the Royal Palace, National Museum and towering Independence Monument, all of which are located nearby.

Nevertheless it’s the friendliness at the heart of Khmer culture today that brings many visitors back, say La Rose staff. This, and effusive hospitality, greeted The Siteseer back in February.

017-Meeting facility (2)During the serving of a multiple-course Khmer meal in the Suites’ main restaurant, for example, while a staff member performed a traditional Cambodian dance on a small stage, the food kept on coming. A piquant salad of chicken, mint, shaved vegetables and lime juice. Battered fish in coconut milk. Fragrant curries. Noodles and chilli.

When I told one my hosts I was full, he smiled and said: “Our slogan is home away from home, so you’ve got to taste everything! And it’s healthy, worry-free, all made with fresh ingredients; you can eat all this and never put on weight.”

From USD100 per night

To stay at La Rose in peak season, from November to May, the rack rate for a room is around USD100 and for the suites about USD200, which includes breakfast. An a la carte menu is available all day till 10pm.

TripAdvisor reviews overwhelmingly rate the properties as excellent. “We were tired when we arrived after long travel and could only stay one night,” writes one reviewer. “Ohh I wish we could have stayed longer. Fantastic rooms, very service-oriented and friendly staff and the restaurant was really good.”

Amen to that.

More info: www.larose.com.kh.

Email relax@larose.com.kh.